One of the most contentious debates to unfold in recent years is how we talk about the history of race in America. How does our past, and our willingness to fully reckon with it, impact how we address systemic racism, inequity and racist violence? That is a driving question behind Un(re)solved, a major journalism initiative that tells the stories of lives cut short and examines a federal effort to grapple with America’s legacy of racist killings through the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.
The multimedia project takes many shapes, including a web-based interactive experience and an augmented-reality installation that is touring the nation. Today there are more than 150 people whose cases are being re-examined by the Department of Justice under the Till Act. This project tells their stories and makes available for the first time a comprehensive collection of the cases — searchable by person, decade, state or themes that illuminate troubling patterns of racial injustice in America. Some names may be familiar like Emmett Till, others are lesser known civil rights figures and everyday people whose lives were cut short.
To lead Un(re)solved’s creative vision, FRONTLINE partnered with Ado Ato Pictures, a premier mixed reality studio founded by artist, filmmaker and technologist Tamara Shogaolu. Shogaolu rooted Un(re)solved in the powerful symbolism of trees; by turning the forests depicted throughout Un(re)solved into beautiful spaces, she sought to subvert the trees’ dark historical symbolism, reclaiming them for African Americans. Shogaolu was also inspired by the African American tradition of quilting; among enslaved African Americans forbidden to read or write, quilts provided an important space to document family stories.
The interactive web experience uses WebGL to build environments that users travel through as they act as a source of light moving their cursor to illuminate the imagery – essentially “turning the light of truth upon” these stories in the famous words of Ida B Wells. Voice recognition software allows users to speak the names of the victims by which a person unlocks entry into the forests where the stories unfold.
There is also a touring companion augmented-reality installation that has been shown at the Rosa Parks Museum, the Two Mississippi Museums, DuSable Museum of African American History, the Boston Museum of African American History and continues to travel the nation.
Un(re)solved was supported by an advisory council of pre-eminent journalists, lawyers, and artists on the subject of race in America, who provided guidance and expertise as FRONTLINE sought to tell this story with care and sensitivity.
Since its debut at Tribeca Festival, Un(re)solved has been honored with awards and accolades, including: the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award for Multimedia; IDFA’s Award for Best Digital Storytelling; SIMA’s Journalistic Achievement & Creative Advocacy award; SXSW’s Innovation Award for Visual Media Experience; and is a finalist for the Scripps Howard Award for Excellence in Multimedia Journalism.
With a strong art direction and comprehensive, multi-dimensional approach, this project speaks to the heart while looking at the past. It balances information with emotion and, at the same time, feels like the first draft of History.